Journal of the Emerald Specter 79: 13 Reasons Why… I Reflect on My Own Past

There have been multiple times I have wanted to write about the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why but I wasn’t done watching the show then. As I write these words, I’m watching the last episode and I’m far enough through the show where I can comment on the aspects of the show that I am going to end up commenting on.

So, there will definitely be spoilers in my column, so if you don’t want to be spoiled in any way, shape, or form then you shouldn’t read further. The point isn’t to talk endlessly about JUST the show, the show sort of sparked a thought in me to write about my experience growing up. This may also involve some current events, but I’m not promising anything.

If you have been under a rock, there is a Netflix show called 13 Reasons Why, which is about a teenage girl who committed suicide and left a series of tapes to the 13 people who basically caused her to go through with the act.

There is a central theme of the suicide, and while I’ve had my own personal tragedy in this area, that isn’t what I want to talk about. My primary concern here is really not going to talk about the suicide at all, but to talk about what the culture of the school is like and how that relates to what I experienced.

I may talk about more of the show, too, but that is why I’m putting words out there into the world. This goes under “Storytelling” because I used the show to launch into this and this is a story about my experience.

When people on TV talk about a “small town,” they’re talking about something in excess of 50,000 residents. I am from a small town, the population was roughly 3,100 residents. SMALL. If you did something, the “trope” of everyone finding out about it actually happens in a small town. A TRUE small town.

I graduated from high school before 1995, and that’s about as specific as I’m going to get in an open forum like this. My high school, which I’ll just call “Smalltown High School,” or SHS… there were 63 people who graduated in my class. There would have been more but some didn’t make the grade and ended up getting alternate diplomas after the fact.

When watching 13 Reasons Why, I see a class of kids interacting with each other in a large groups (whether or not they were really close or not) and I look at what I experienced. In the show, there were the tight-nit jocks hob knobbing with the cheerleaders and both groups would  routinely mistreat the nerds (or the “nerd-like”). Everyone generally treats everyone somewhat respectfully in the flashbacks, though things tend to be a little less so after the tapes start getting circulated.

How is this relevant to me?

When I was in high school, there were better than 75% of the class that I’d been in kindergarten with, so we basically grew up together. After we got into high school, we segregated into the social groups that existed with the rest the high school. At the time, those groups were jocks, preps, nerds, and “loads.”

The jocks were, predictably, the ones who participated in multiple sports throughout their high school years. Some were track, basketball, cross country, football, hockey… there may have been a few other sports back then that I can’t really recall, but they were primarily involved in the sporting events (often as many as they could be a part of).

The preps were the socially active members of the school, participating in all kinds of clubs, cheerleading, and they almost exclusively held the top slots in the “grade point average” race to be valedictorian. While not exclusively, this group was largely populated by the girls of the class… they were the ones who spent the most time concentrating on their studies and social interactions. I wasn’t ever part of this group so I only have an “outside looking in” perspective on them.

The nerds were the socially awkward group, very often only interacting within their own group and often being left out of the clubs and sports. Nerds were picked on relentlessly, depending on who they were and how much they would resist. Interests here revolved around things that have nothing to do with school and being at school very rarely played any part other than being a distraction.

Lastly, there were the loads. This was originally a derogatory term for the rebellious kids who participated in partying with drugs and openly with alcohol. I say “openly” because the jocks drank almost as much as the loads but their offenses were often looked past, looked over, and generally considered “too good to touch” when it comes to partying. Jocks and loads rarely, if ever, commingled. Jocks couldn’t afford the “bad press.”

I was part of three of these groups. The first two years of school, I fit tangentially into the jocks because of my participation in cross country. I say tangentially because I would really have called myself a nerd for the totality of my freshman year. That changed my sophomore year when I became a load, full force.

Let me step back a minute.

Everyone in my graduating class, for the most part, got along until we reached high school. Things really took a turn when we were full fledged high schoolers. Many of them got worse as the years went on.

On 13 Reasons Why, the class was far more intertwined than my own experience. I am not without a point of reference for the camaraderie the show displayed. The grade just below mine  were almost completely united in their caring about being friendly with each other. Watching them, honestly, made me a little ill… the show would be what they were dialed down and a bit closer to my own experience.

The group of people that I was hanging out with in the first year of high school with the nerds because I hadn’t really managed to be interested in many other things. One thing I was, though, was lazy and nerdy… so I wanted to get out of taking PhyEd and there were four classes one could take as well as two years of a sport. So, here I come cross country!

Did I suck? Yep, but I did my two years (and the four classes, by the way) to avoid PhyEd as I wanted. But during that whole time, I was picked on… though I’ll say that I was picked on by the worst possible people to be picked on by, so at least I was choosing the best… worst?

In the show, Tyler receives LESS torture than I had for the first year of high school. Then, something wonderful happened. A random person in algebra asked me what I was doing one Friday night. I’ll call him Smith, because it’s a generic last name and because it was his last name. That Friday night had me hanging out with the loads and I loved it.

And the bullies left me alone. Completely.

Did I do drugs? No. I did enjoy the hell out of some alcohol, though, and invented Dr. Peppermint (between one to two ounces of peppermint schnapps per 20 ounces of Dr. Pepper… and before you say “that sounds gross,” try it. I’ve introduced no less than 100 lifelong Dr. Peppermint lovers to my wonderful concoction who swear by it… and I discovered it by accident).

In the show, the class seems to be broken down into only two real groups: the jocks and the not-jocks. Granted, we don’t get to see a large cross section of the class, as I am sure there are more than 63 students in that class. We get to see the jocks (Bryce, Justin, Zach, Montgomery, Jeff, Marcus) interacting with some cheerleaders (Jessica, Sheri), some outcast types (Skye, Tyler,  Ryan), and a few people who fit into other categories of “not-jocks” (Sheri, Courtney, Alex), most of which end up working with each other in some form or fashion to keep the tapes a secret.

There wasn’t much diversity portrayed on the show. Real life was more broken down than that, as I explained.

What I wanted to cover, I have. I didn’t have an experience in high school that was portrayed in the show. I don’t have friends from high school I still talk to (the last one turning out to be a social justice extremist who doesn’t listen to reason)… the ones that I still talk to, mainly those of the “load” social group I belonged to, all have their own things going on and we are cordial.

The closest experience I have to relate to what I witnessed in the show was the Navy. Even though I fundamentally disagree with some of the views of my brothers and sisters in the Navy, I would still rather hang out with and talk to them than some of those people I was in high school with.

This was a longer post and didn’t really fully explore what I had on my mind. Honestly, I could write a book on what I had on my mind and unfortunately I know that I won’t really get that done, either.

Hopefully someone gets something out of this, though.